Noriya Takeyama is a Japanese toy and graphics designer. I was lucky enough to meet him in October, 2013 at the Fewmany pop-up shop at the Marui Annex in Shinjuku. He and his buddy in the porkpie hat came by to say hello to the Devilrobots, with whom Takeyama-san is friends. I didn’t get to hang out with Takeyama-san for very long, but he gave off this very cool vibe and I’m really glad I got a picture with me, him, and his pal in it.
And all these months later it just occurred to me that I’m an idiot for not asking the man to autograph a sheet of stickers I had with me that he designed….
(Photographs taken at Marui Annex, Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013)
I took about 70 photographs last year of men of the street in Shinjuku. And to put this in the least acerbic terms possible, of the eight different men I photographed over the course of a month this shoeshine man was the only one who was doing something upstanding and productive. Granted, I didn’t go to Shinjuku to shoot pictures of upright, normal citizens, but I want to make a public note of the respect I have for this old fellow. Sitting outside the world’s busiest train station and trying to make a living shining shoes can’t be an easy life.
Also I have to freely admit this fellow reminds me of an old Tokyo song, which I first heard in the ‘70s in the motion picture “M*A*S*H”…
(Picture taken on the west side of Shinjuku Station in September, 2013)
During each of my trips to Tokyo in 2012 and 2013 to take photographs for my “Tokyo Panic Stories” project, I met up with some really wonderful people, people with whom I hope to remain friends for years to come. But during the 2013 trip, a particular treat for me was the opportunity to hang out with Shinichiro Kitai and Kotohiro Nishiyama of the Tokyo-based toy and graphic design firm Devilrobots. I have been a huge fan of the Devilrobots ever since I stumbled across their To-fu Oyako character toys on eBay in 2002. Their whimsical, anthropomorphic designs for toy figures and other colorful objects really appeal to something deep within in my senses of aesthetics and fun.
In short, and without being too gushy about it, the Devilrobots are personal heroes of mine, and their work adds a LOT of joy to my life. In fact, it’s fair to say the Devilrobots inspire me in a way that has helped me cope with my chronic depression.
I met these fine gentlemen one afternoon while they were setting up the Devilrobots “Devil Museum” retrospective and retail sale displays at the Fewmany pop-up shop in the Shinjuku Marui Annex. And the rest of the afternoon just flowed from there…
Mr. Kotohiro Nishiyama, Koto-san, the Devilrobots’ business manager who also acts as the English translator for public events. I got to hang out with Koto-san in 2012 at the Devilrobots’ offices in Shinjuku. Here at the 2013 Fewmany shop, he showed me the “Devil Museum” and the various artifacts from Devilrobots’ 17-year history.
The man himself, Mr. Shinichiro Kitai (Shin-san), the Devilrobots founder and lead designer and artist. He designed pretty much every toy and graphic element you see in these photographs. And he is as colorful, whimsical, and fun as the things he creates.
A display showcasing prototypes and mock-ups of some of the very first To-fu Oyako kubrick figures designed by Shin-san and manufactured by Medicom Toy. Other items in the display utilize To-fu Oyako design elements.
A closer look at some Devilrobots kubrick prototypes. Note the To-fu Oyako figure in the background shaped like a “Toy Story” alien.
Koto-san pointing at a display case full of Evirob kubrick figures and small sculptures. Evirob is Shin-san’s other major character design, but the character itself is a bit odd and hard to explain, mostly because I don’t fully understand it (even though I like it).
One of the neatest things on display, a mashup statue of toy designer Kenny Wong’s Molly character and Shin-san’s To-fu Oyako. I wish I could have purchased this, but I had to be scrupulous with my Kickstarter funds.
Koto-san and Shin-san taking a moment to evaluate their display work. Shin-san is, as you can see, not camera-shy.
A multitude of Devilrobots stickers and badges, manufactured by Facto, a Japanese design company which produces various goods for toy and graphic designers like Devilrobots.
After the work was done setting up the Devilrobots “Devil Museum” shop, Koto-san and Shin-san offered to take me out for some beers. Shin-san and I waited out in the rain in front of Marui Annex while Koto-san was busy retrieving the umbrella he had forgotten inside the building.
We made our way to joint called 82 Ale House in Shinjuku 3-chome. After Shin-san bought the first round of pints, he was kind enough to autograph some Devilrobots items I had with me. Here he’s inscribing a booklet he designed for a CD by an excellent J-pop band called Tokimeki Express.
Beers, smokes, peanuts, and a signed hand-decorated To-fu Oyako kubrick on a greasy bar table. To me this is one version of heaven.
As I noted earlier, Shin-san is not camera-shy.
Despite having to translate between me and Shin-san, Koto-san was able to relax.
I felt so honored that these busy guys…
…took the time to hang out with me.
The list of things for which I am a gushing fanboy is very, very short, but the Devilrobots’ design work and these two superior gentlemen are certainly on it. One of the greatest open secrets about the Japanese is that they are very warm, big-hearted people if you make the effort to get socially close them. Shin-san and Koto-san are two perfect examples of this. I really treasured their company that rainy afternoon in Shinjuku, and I hope they enjoyed mine.
And I can’t thank these two gents enough for their warmth, hospitality, and generosity. Take care, boys, and I hope to see you the next time I’m in Tokyo.
–Dan Ryan, Brisbane, California, July 22nd 2014.
Post script: On my birthday this past January, Shin-san created this digital birthday card and posted it on my Facebook wall, convincing me that he is even more of a big-hearted mensch than I already thought he was…
(Photographs taken at Marui Annex and 82 Ale House, Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013)
I walked from Nakano to Shinjuku alone
I was never really alone or ever am.
The city was with me.
A god-pigeon was with me.
We watched hanami pass into hanafubuki,
as the city shook the petals loose.
I took them from the ground,
petals like silken snow
falling on harsh pavements and concrete.
It can be just as beautiful as hanami.
There are patterns to all of it,
everything has a place randomly assigned.
As I stood there at Kandagawa,
my hand full of Tokyo’s grace,
I looked nearby to the street,
the post-hanami trash had it’s own kind of beautiful pattern too.
(Pictures taken near the intersection of Otakibashi-dori and the Kanda River (Kandagawa) in April, 2012)
I had a finished poem written about this photo, and what might be going through this man’s head. It started with the line “I am stranded in my own blood” and got weird after that. But I scrapped it because I don’t think words can entirely convey how cosmically tired this fellow looked. He looked tired in a way that didn’t suggest utter defeat, but also didn’t suggest he was on an upswing. The kind of tired where you just have to sit quietly for a bit and take the time to consider which limb to move next, which finger to flick. The kind of tired that emanates from you so perceptibly that some schmuck standing near you only long enough to snap a few pictures of you can feel it.
That kind of tired.
(Picture taken on the west side of Shinjuku Station in September, 2013)
It is raining today in Brisbane, California.
I like to call it a fine Tokyo rain.
Because Tokyo taught me
to love the space between the drops and
to love the dirt-city vistas beyond the falling curtains and
to love the rain like it was my mother
who would never dissolve me like sugars to run down
the gutters to sweeten the trash for the sewer rats.
(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo in October, 2013. Published concurrently on Scholars and Rogues.)
It was a warm, sunny day in Shinjuku, and I was on my way to meet a friend at Kinokuniya. As I was waiting to cross Shinjuku Dori, I noticed this thoughtful-looking fellow next to me. For the five or six heartbeats I was near him before the pedestrian light turned green, I thought he looked like the smartest man in the world.
(Picture taken in Shinjuku 3-chome in September, 2013)
So I have compiled a book of the short stories I have written in the last four years. It is available as Kindle book from Amazon. Here’s is how I have described it:
These eight very short stories, written between January, 2010 and October, 2013, run the gamut from a simple tale of friendship in a Tokyo bar (“Kamiya Bar”) to the horrors in the mind of a warped Japanese family man (“The Water and Plum Dream”). In between are tales of detective work, teleportation, alcoholism, Wyatt Earp, and a sequel to the movie classic “Blade Runner”. Short but bittersweet, “Kamiya Bar and other stories” won’t take long to read, but will have you thinking for some time afterward.
Interested? Okay, then click on the image of the cover below, and get yourself a quick but thought-provoking read….
Tomorrow night (January 25th, 2014 for those of you reading this after the fact) I am appearing for the third year in a row at Brisbane’s annual Artists Evening of Sharing. I’ll be showing a video montage of images I took in September and October of last year for my “Tokyo Panic Stories” project. I’m pleased with this video, so please have a look and leave a comment below if you care to to let me know what you think…
As an additional bonus, I’ve compiled the videos I shot last year in Tokyo for your viewing pleasure. They’re not of the highest quality, and they don’t have any big revelatory importance. They’re just short slices of motion and sound that I managed to capture during some long, hot days when I was in Tokyo and life was good. Because Tokyo will always be a home and haven for me…
Thanks for having a look. I intend to do more videos in the future. Probably. I think.
Tomorrow is the Thanksgiving holiday here in America. It’s already upon my American friends in Japan. While I have some regrets (of the life-long variety), I have had a lot to be thankful for in the last 12 months. In particular, I am thankful that I was able to successfully fund a Kickstarter project which enabled me to return to Tokyo in September and October this year to continue my Tokyo Panic Stories work. And while I was in Tokyo, I was able to get together with some guys I already knew, and meet some new fellows with whom I hope to be friends in years to come.
I don’t have a hell of a lot of friends, and I don’t make them easily. This post is my way of thanking these fine gents for their company and warmth. Cheers, boys…
I didn’t get much sex in Tokyo this year. That is to say, unlike the risqué series of photos I took last year , in 2013 I think I unconsciously decided there were things I wanted to include in my photographic Tokyo explorations other than additional copious evidence of the unabashed Japanese attitude toward retail sexual entertainments. But when I passed this window one sunny September day in Shinjuku, well, I just had to marvel at these sizes and imaginative shapes…
(Picture taken in Kabukichō, Shinjuku, Tokyo on September 20th, 2013)
I passed though Shinjuku several times in September, and once in October. At a particular exit from Shinjuku Station, this man was always there. I don’t know his story, but his life seemed less that perfect. And still people passed him by…
(Picture taken at the east end of Shinjuku Station on October 5th, 2013)
The man was dapper and having a rest while feeding a multitude of birds, not far from Kinokuniya in Shinjuku.
One of the birds included this huge damn raven…
…which didn’t have time to nevermore linger.
(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo on September 24th, 2013)
On the streets of Shinjuku today, a character of unknown disposition, purpose, or origin. But pretty damned colorful and determined-looking…
(Picture taken in Tokyo on September 24th, 2013)
You could see he was breathing, and there wasn’t any blood on the ground. Maybe someone drugged the rice at his feet.
A minute or so later he moved his hand to his face and scratched, providing further proof of life. Maybe not a happy life, though.
A man this young and fucked-up at midday is an unusual sight even in Kabukichō. Fortunately he was in a high-traffic area for passersby, who left him to sleep it off.
(Pictures taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo on September 20th, 2013)
of a thousand galaxies,
and it’s all
shining down here
(Pictures taken on Waseda Dori somewhere around Ochiai, I think, on April 13th, 2012. I had been very sick for nearly the entire first two weeks I was in Tokyo. Some kind of lung infection, which I later learned I probably brought with me from California or contracted on the plane as I flew to Japan. On this day, still suffering from a fever and horrible coughing fits, I decided I had to get the hell out of my apartment and do something. So I packed up my cameras, picked a direction, and started walking. I started at Nakano Broadway, and ended up at Shinjuku Station, shooting pictures of basically anything along the way.
It was a good walk. It was a good day to be alive and in Tokyo, and I fully recovered about a day later.)
It is a cliché of great truth: In Tokyo, one of the most crowded and kinetically frenzied cities on Earth, it is easy to be alone. I spent a lot of time alone in Tokyo in 2012—in my apartment, in restaurants, and in seedier parts of the city—during the five weeks in April and May when I was there working on a forthcoming book of photographs and prose. Fortunately, on a handful of occasions I accepted invitations to eat and drink with “gaijin”, mostly Americans, who knew me through Twitter and my heavy involvement with the 2011 Quakebook project.
I don’t make friends easily. I never have. I’m a natural, almost pathological, loner. But I was lucky enough to meet the good people in these pictures and click with each of them in some way. And I have stayed in touch with all these folks through social networks since I got back from Tokyo. I hope that continues for a long, long time. And to the people in my pictures I say: Thanks for making my 2012 trip to Tokyo such a splendid thing.
@loveartblues, an elegant guy wisely taking a break from the ocean of beer at Kamiya Bar.
@kuripyon, the smartest punk-rock-and-roll-engineering chick I’ve ever met. Kamiya Bar.
I met five other people in Tokyo, including this dear friend, but didn’t take their individual pictures. I’m sorry for that, and I hope to correct that mistake the next time we meet in Japan.
She was small.
She was alone.
People passed by, and she just kept dialing the phone.
And I loved her.
I could have jumped from my train,
across the oncoming Shinjuku subway tracks,
and asked her to have soba noodles and cold beer with me
until it was time for breakfast in Tsukiji.
(I’m very fond of this image of a lady little person on the platform at Shinjuku Station. I published it here back in April. The conditions under which I took this photo were horrible. So even though I think it works, I apologize if this picture looks more like a crummy stippled photo-realistic painting instead of a proper photograph. No matter, even at the picture’s full size and grainy, this small woman is one of the most beautiful sights I ever saw in Japan.—Dan)
Sometimes Tokyo is the cigarette you toss
into an ashtray full of garbage and water.
Sometimes Tokyo is the restaurant
you pass by every day but never go in.
Sometimes Tokyo is toys you see in a school display
while walking from Nakano Station to Shinjuku.
(Pictures taken in Nakano-ku and Shinjuku-ku in April, 2012.)
Mulling over the choices I’ve made in life
what it basically comes down to is:
I just happened to look into your camera
while you thought you secretly took a picture of me.
Then we pass each other
on this street in Shinjuku right after the death of all cherry blossoms
and we don’t speak and
we don’t ever see each other again…
I walk like a champion
because this street is mine.
This tree I pass every day
is planted in earth which was once soaked
with the innovative blood of my ancestors
who died here keeping the secrets of Velcro
from the Shogun’s tax collectors.
We are an old clan,
we never married burakumin
like those butchers over in Sanya.
We are a proud clan,
and you need to keep out of my way.
(Photos taken on Otakibashi-dori in Shinjuku, Tokyo in April, 2012)
I am midway between 48 and 49 and still enchanted with and charmed by toys. I suppose in a perfect world I would be over my love of toys by now. But I don’t want to live in that world.
Happiness is where you find it, even it it’s in a bit of plastic or vinyl molded to look like a non-existent creature. And when it comes to such toys, my greatest admiration is for the weird, whimsical and very Japanese toys designed by my personal heroes, the Devilrobots.
I just love their stuff. I have quite a bit of it here at the house, though modesty forbids posting pictures lest it be considered a vulgar display. I’ve been a fan for about 10 years, but Devilrobots have been around since 1997. I can’t quite remember exactly how I stumbled upon the toys and trinkets they design. But I do remember making a conscious effort to meet up with my heroes when I was in Tokyo in April and part of May this year. And, lucky me, on May 3rd, 2012 I got to travel to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward and have a look inside the creative world of a small group of geniuses.
And I’d like to share that world with you. So have a look, and enjoy.
My host, Kotohiro Nishiyama, is really just the nicest man. That’s him in the picture below. Due to scheduling conflicts, Koto-san was the only team member who was able to meet me and let me look around Devilrobots’ headquarters. And he didn’t just meet me at the office like anyone else might have. He met me in the rain at Kagurazaka Station on the Tōzai Line and guided me to the Devilrobots’ building near Edogawabashi. He was such a gentleman, letting me wander around as I wished while he did some work in his office. And at one point we sat for a good spell at the Devilrobots’ coffee table (pictured later) and had some cigarettes and talked of toys and the time we both spent in Minnesota and some silly things I don’t exactly recall. His company was delightful and his hospitality was wonderfully generous. And he’d never even met me before.
After meeting Koto-san, well I went a little nuts and took pictures of almost everything I saw. And it started with this To-fu Oyako display right outside the Devilrobots’ front entrance.
Detail from the previous photo.
A beautiful assortment of wonderful characters greets you when you enter Devilrobots.
The reception area and lounge. No receptionist nor sign-in book here.
Marshmallow princess Maffy, my wife’s favorite character. This is to the right as you enter the Devilrobots’ front door.
The fully-loaded shelves of toys in the Devilrobots’ lounge will blow your mind.
And on the floor, there are Japanese-style To-fu Oyako slot machines.
Devilrobots have designed a whole menagerie of vinyl creatures and characters. The pink figure in the center is a To-fu Oyako x Gloomy Bear mashup.
A crazy-wonderful Devilrobots version of Mickey Mouse.
The entrance foyer, because I forgot to show this previously. Sorry. I got distracted.
The Devilrobots’ Jedi coffee and meeting table.
Just a trinket on the table which Koto-san showed me.
A prototype for the new To-fu Oyako color vinyl figure series.
To-fu vinyl and ice water await patiently for attention and consumption.
The two great Devilrobots characters, To-fu Oyako and Evirob, in vinyl on the table.
Koto-san and I, we had a few cigarettes together when I took a couple of breaks from taking pictures.
Koto-san looks a little like a Japanese Abraham Lincoln.
And except for the unhappy expression, this hirsute to-fu sculpture kind of looks like Koto-san.
To-fu Oyako happy figure madness.
To-fu Oyako “Toy Story” UFO catcher alien.
Devilrobot’s Medicom Toy 100% Be@rbricks. These are kind of rare. I’m lucky to have all three (the first one is the same as the third, but showing the back of the head.)
There is whimsy at every turn where the Devilrobots live.
In a snow globe of his own, lonely Kiiro-chan.
400% be@rbricks and other figures. Does the one on the left look familiar?
A prestigious award that lead designer Shinichiro Kitai won with his To-fu Oyako character in a design competition before founding Devilrobots in 1997. I would have met Shin-san but for the scheduling conflicts, both his and mine but mostly mine, mentioned earlier. I regret this missed opportunity, but I hope to compensate by meeting Shin-san the next time I’m in Tokyo.
Well, that’s it.
I shot a hell of a lot more photos than the ones you’ve just seen. But even the internet can only hold so much data. So I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour and commentary about my wonderful time visiting the Devilrobots.
(And Koto-san, from me to you I say thanks. Meeting up with you that afternoon in Shinjuku was one of the happiest experiences I’ve had in Japan.)
In Tokyo, things move and change. The light is its own ghost, never knowing where to go or haunt or which shadows to vanquish. The people have a more adjusted purpose, and look where the light takes them.
In Shinjuku, things move and change. You never see the same people twice, or at least never see them in the same light. The light is one of Tokyo’s special wards. It is its own place to be and live, and it moves with you and against you. But it is ever with you.
Near Yotsuya San-chome Station, things move and change. But for a moment the people disappear and the light is free to fully show you what the people left behind. It isn’t that spectacular in some ways. But in the brightness of the early night it could be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
(Pictures taken in Yotsuya San-chome, Tokyo in April, 2012)
On my last day in Tokyo, I encountered this extraordinary-looking woman in Shinjuku Station on the Narita Express train platform. Turns out she and her husband were Americans, going home to New York City after 10 days in Japan.
I asked her “Is this a punk-rock thing, a cosplay thing, an art thing, or just your thing?”
While very graciously allowing me to take her picture, she explained that this was a personal thing, a look she had carefully considered and crafted with a dear female friend from Sweden who has the identical appearance configuration, only in bright green. She said she’s not into cosplay, and gets tired trying to explain that to people.
“That,” I said to her, “Is the most remarkable look. You have kind of a Predator thing going on. And you are also a very pretty woman.”
She laughed at the Predator reference, and thanked me for the compliment. Then the train arrived and we parted ways to the cars in which we had reserved seats.
Later, at Narita Airport, I saw her and her husband boarding a United flight to Newark. The woman and I smiled at each other and waved. An hour later, I boarded a United flight to San Francisco.
Then I left Japan.
I walked east from my lodgings in Nakano, Tokyo last Friday. I had been sick for some days with a bronchial infection. Not the way I wanted to spend much time here. But there is time. It suspends itself in Tokyo and waits for you.
So when I walked, I ended up at a section of the Kandagawa River. It was an explosion there, of pink in the breeze. I inhaled the color and the sound.
And the things on the ground, the petals, they were like the bits of ticker tape from an alternate reality, the one where we threw the world’s largest parade because the Japanese were the first to land on the moon.
The petals, I had to touch them.
And I’m glad I did. To have them in my hand, they were soft and dying and wonderful. They blew slowly out of my palm. They felt like broken silk.
(Pictures taken near the intersection of Otakibashi-dori and the Kanda River (Kandagawa) in on April 13th, 2012)